food / travel

The Coolest Set, A Local Eye On Hollywood's Iceland Invasion

On the set of Justice League
On the set of Justice League
Philippe Chassepot

DJUPAVIK — About a century ago, farmers from the remote region of Arneshreppur didn't know the value of money. In general, bartering was still the only source of survival in this northwestern region, largely cut off from the rest of the island nation. Then, in 1934, a herring factory was opened in the small village of Djupavik.

Eventually more than 300 more people settled in the area over the subsequent ten years, before the fish became scarce, and the factory's inevitable closing in 1954 that sank the fjord region back into despair.

Djupavik then became a kind of ghost town, until one family saw some potential in these few shacks built at the foot of a gigantic waterfall. Eva Sigurbjörnsdottir and her husband Petur first bought back an abandoned house that had been the property of the state, with plans to convert into a friendly hotel. Later, they would buy the abandoned factory, an extraordinary, almost insane structure that had included a storage room of herring oil with a capacity of 2,000 tons that would one day host a concert by the popular Icelandic rock band Sigur Ros.

It is beautiful, cold, intense, fascinating, but also rather strange — not the first choice for your honeymoon. But like other places in Iceland, a prime choice for Hollywood location scouts. Star Wars: Rogue One, Captain America, Prometheus, Oblivion, Interstellar, Thor, Transformers, Fast and Furious and Game of Thrones share one thing in common: All were shot in Iceland.

Zack Snyder is a 51-year-old Hollywood director, willing to spare nothing to find the phantasmagorical settings that help drive the success of his blockbusters. For the current superhero release, Justice League, one of the most expensive films ever, with an estimated budget of $300 million, Snyder had identified six sites. His Icelandic scouts recommended Djupavik. Intrigued, the filmmaker decided to visit the small village. A helicopter ride, a few glances down on land and he announced: "Cancel everything else, we will not move from here."

Our visit starts with Magnus Karl Petursson, Eva's son, who now runs Hotel Djupavik. His autumn 2016 bookings had been easy enough to manage: The crew had booked a full year in advance. Six weeks spread over September and October: All 14 rooms of the hotel occupied, mattresses laid out everywhere in the building — and a village completely transfigured by 120 caravans on the beach nearby.

Magnus is a little concerned about the idea of saying too much, bound by duty of confidentiality. But this fantastic storyteller has trouble containing himself and reveals some tasty details and anecdotes. "The director thought our volcanic stones were magnificent. He wanted to carry some on the beach, before giving up because of their weight. So, he asked his set designers to make some fake ones." Just rocks "of cinema", much like the icebergs on the edge of the beach. Or the brand new red house right next to the hotel. Unrecognizable in the film because it's artificially constructed to make the whole setting appear rusty and colder.

Cancel everything else, we will not move from here.

There is also a perfect boat, it too full of rust. The one that hosted the workers in the middle of the last century, the one which Batman and Aquaman stand before, engaged in a full discussion. A scene that would have had to take place elsewhere, according to Magnus: "Zack Snyder had found the ideal place to film the scene, but the stairs were too narrow. He got them built wider. Before changing his mind, once it was ready …"

End of story? No, since as a result of the shooting, the production had insisted on the destruction of the new stairs for replacement by the former, while Magnus wanted to keep them to avoid a potential lawsuit, according to the army of lawyers who look carefully at each clause. Everything was settled "Hollywood-style": The new staircase had been disassembled, the former reassembled, photos were taken to prove that everything had been repaired.

Other than that, tales of the actors? Well, there was Ben Affleck as Batman, who had to mount a horse at the top of the waterfall overlooking the village. Problem: He is 6 feet 4 inches tall and the Icelandic horses are the smallest in the world. The producers went in the search of the largest equine in the country, to no avail. Solution: finding a shorter stunt double for Affleck.

Magnus speaks of "the coolest" time of his life to describe these intense weeks, the warehouse transformed into a giant bar with karaoke, billiards, foosball table and sound system after the days of work; the last day of shooting and the final "cut" yelled by Zack Snyder, greeted with screams of joy and the beer fete that followed.

He won't say how much money he earned from this unforgettable experience, but recalled a friend telling him: "It's Hollywood, you can ask for at least ten times more than usual."

For Einar Hansen Tomasson, chief for the promotion of cinema production in Iceland, business is booming. "My job is to be proactive, facilitate contacts, introduce people to each other. My first year, in 2004, I didn't know anyone in Los Angeles and I used to awkwardly introduce myself, like: "Hello, I am Icelandic." Today, I make a call the day before I arrive and now it is rather like: "Hi guys, I'm in town.""

Things first kicked off in 2006, with Flags Of Our Fathers, directed by Clint Eastwood. A shooting with thousands of extras, a huge project for Iceland. Top producers, especially from the U.S., then realized that they could make movies amid the uniquely breathtaking natural environment. "Yes, of course, with all these landscapes that we cannot find elsewhere," Tomasson said. "Nature does the work for us."

When Iceland's currency collapsed with the economic crisis in 2008, the financial conditions made the country even more interesting for foreign producers. Now, the Icelandic State also reimburses up to 25% of the production costs incurred on site.

"Today, Iceland has been put on the map for several reasons," continues Tomasson." Our production companies are doing a great job with a very hard-working staff. In Europe, working time in the film industry is ten hours per day over five days. I even think that it is eight hours in France. In Iceland, it is twelve hours daily, six days a week. It is a country of fishermen: When we see a fish, we catch it."

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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